The Skellig Islands – 27/7/14

Denis Barry-6

John Tait-1In what was one of the most anticipated shoots of the year, ECCG members headed to Portmagee, near Valentia Island, Co. Kerry on Sunday 27/7/14 to catch a boat to Skellig Michael, a rocky island with a long and interesting history located approx. 12 Km offshore in the North Atlantic. Coincidentally, this was a special time in the history of the island as shooting of scenes for the latest Star Wars movie was due to begin there on the following day, Monday 28/7 which was causing much talk and debate locally and nationally.

Anthony OConnor-6The 50 minute journey to the island, while choppy, quickly allayed the apprehension of some of the land lubbers in the Group and all landed safely at Blind Man's Cove following some deft maneuvering by the skipper. A 300 meter walk along the lighthouse road, that skirts the south side of the island, gradually rises towards the helicopter pad and about 50 meters further on, is located the beginning of the climb to the top.

At this point we were taken in charge by one of the resident guides, Cathy (yes they actually reside on the island for 14 days at a time!), who gave us some safety guidelines for our visit. Her advice was perfect as the climb to the top is not for the faint-hearted. There are no two ways about it, it is a dangerous place even on the calm, dry summers day that we experienced. The climb, on dry stone paving, is long and steep and there are very few handrails to grasp. That said, by following the advice of the guides to keep to the paths, go at your own speed, rest when necessary and stop if you feel it's not for you, the island can be a safe and enjoyable place to be and is really worth a visit. Cathy also explained that the island is a World Heritage Site and underlined the need for visitors to protect and preserve its integrity by taking nothing from or leaving anything on the island.

James Brady-7The presence of thousands of puffins, seagulls and other birds who call the island home, for a time at least, is a photo fest indeed and only for the thought that there's a return boat to be caught a few hours later, a photographer could easily spend the whole day just shooting them as they are really up close and in no way shy. Denis Barry-2

Over half way to the top is an area known as Christ's Saddle, an area of flat ground between the island's two peaks. Whatever about its former religious purposes, for today and the next few days at least, it is base-camp for the Star Wars film crew. With all items such as tents, gear, water and provisions having to be manually hauled up the steps to this point, this has to be the least glamorous side of the movie industry.

John Tait-4From Christ's Saddle another steep flight of steps brings you to the monastic site located on a terraced shelf 600 feet above sea-level, and developed between the sixth and eighth centuries. It contains six beehive cells, two oratories as well as a number of stone crosses and slabs. It also contains a later medieval church. The cells and oratories are all of dry-stone wall construction and a carefully designed system for collecting and purifying water in cisterns was developed. It has been estimated that 12-24 monks and an abbot lived here at any one time. A hermitage is located on the south peak.   John Tait-3Two lighthouses and living accommodation were built on the island during the 19th century and, as lighthouse keepers were posted to the island for as long as four years at a time, their wives and families moved here also which must have been some experience for them. A second guide, Bob Harris, gave a comprehensive account of the history of the island from the earliest known reference in ancient books right up to the present day.

Noelle Lowney-6After an hour or so at the summit taking in the breathtaking views and marveling at the incredible engineering abilities and resilience of the monks and the lighthouse keepers that followed them many centuries later, we headed back down the steps to our boat which was waiting at Blind Man's Cove. On the return trip we paid a close visit to the nearyby Anthony OConnor-10'little Skellig' island which is home to over 23,000 pairs of Gannets, one of the largest colonies in the world. Some seals were also found taking it easy around the island and barely raised their heads as we passed by. The return journey to Portmagee was a bumpy ride to say the least. With a stiff wind and large swell combining, our boat was buffeted quite a bit but we arrived back in port all in one piece and definitely glad we made the trip. What an experience! There was even talk of a return trip....

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Fota Wildlife Park – 20/7/14

Finbarr OShea-1

ECCG members with Fota Wildlife Park Director, Mr. Sean McKeown

On Sunday 20/7/14, incidentally the 45th anniversary of the first moon landing, Fota Wildlife Park was our destination for a Group Shoot. Those of us around to witness the moon landing first hand, could easily draw similarities with the 'giant leap' that has happened at Fota over its 31 years in operation, especially in the last few years. Even as you park your car and take in the park entrance with its two life-size giraffes, you are immediately aware that something special awaits inside - befitting its status as the top tourist attraction in Cork and second only to the Cliffs of Moher in Munster.

On this fine summer's morning, our first port of call was the recently opened Asian Forest where the two newly arrived Sumatran tigers, Dourga and Denar, live. Asian Forest is the €2 million first phase of the bigger €6 million Asian Sanctuary project which will see Indian Rhinos and Asian Lions as well as other exotic animals introduced to the park over the next two years. Work is well under way, but as the park receives no external funding and is entirely dependent on gate receipts, membership fees and donations, it needs help to make this exciting project a reality. Take a look at the video below and log onto the Park's website here for more information.

Having satisfied our curiosity with Dourga and Denar, we continued to ramble around the rest of the park and renewed acquaintances with some of the more established residents who all performed on cue for the camera!

Many thanks to Park Director, Sean McKeown and the staff of Fota Wildlife Park for maintaining such a wonderful attraction on our doorstep.

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Queen of the Sea Festival, Youghal – 12/7/14

Denis OFlynn-8

The prospect of a fireworks display was enough to lure a group of members to Youghal on the night of 12/7/14. A beautiful balmy evening, the sky at sunset was spectacular and, with the imposing Cruise Liner, Ruby Princess, sailing lazily by the mouth of the bay en-route from Cobh to Dublin, the town looked every inch in holiday mode. As darkness fell, the strains of the Garth Brooks tribute band playing on the quayside drifted across the river Blackwater to Ferrypoint where most of the members had gathered in preparation.

The display was due at 11pm and shortly afterwards, having finished his final song, 'Garth' lead the crowd in the countdown. Right on cue and with a full moon as a backdrop, the first rocket headed skywards and over the following eight minutes or so the sky was filled with colour and graphic shapes as the fireworks burst high over the town accompanied by approving cheering choruses from the crowds below. The final, lingering salvo was celebrated with a rousing round of applause and cheers of appreciation and brought to an end another night of memories for young and old alike.

The display was part of the annual Youghal Queen of the Sea festival and for this night, at least, the town had it all: great weather, great music, great craic, great fireworks and the all-too-absent 'feel-good factor' - they even managed to get the man the whole country is talking about -  'Garth Brooks' - to add to the atmosphere!

Well done to all involved.

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Cruise Liner ‘Ruby Princess’ – Cobh/Roches Point 12/7/14


Anthony OConnor-9Three members of ECCG headed for Cobh on 12th July for the departure of the Cruise Liner, Ruby Princess.

Meeting at White Point, we made our way along the waterfront to the deep water berth soaking up the carnival atmosphere. Coaches ferried the passengers back to the ship from day trips to locations around the county and beyond, and a brass band played while passengers boarded.

With all aboard, Ruby Princess departed at 6:30pm for her overnight sailing to Dublin, so it was a quick dash around to Roches Point, at the mouth of the harbour, to get a shot or two of the ship passing the light house.

- Anthony O'Connor

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